If, as is likely, Republicans gain control of the House (if not the Senate) in the 2022 midterms, Democrats will lose the power to enact legislation of their choosing. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Congress will lapse into the quiet uselessness of partisan gridlock, punctuated by occasional Republican efforts to reverse or defund executive actions by Joe Biden. Indeed, Republicans are already serving notice that with the greater leverage that at least one congressional chamber will provide, they will go on a hostage-taking rampage, beginning with the very item on which a debt default and a global economic crisis was just narrowly averted, as the Washington Post reports:
Conservative lawmakers, anticipating the GOP retaking one or both congressional majorities in next year’s midterm elections, are already calling for and strategizing around a fiscal clash in 2023, insisting on using the threat of federal default to place new curbs on government spending and reduce the $28 trillion national debt….
GOP hard-liners — including members of the House Freedom Caucus, a group loyal to former president Donald Trump that has a history of pushing party leaders into high-stakes confrontations with Democrats — are vowing to provoke a reckoning over federal spending using every tactic at their disposal.
“You have to use the tools you have to force change in this town,” said Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.). “That’s not going to go away until people get their head out of their [hindquarters] and actually focus on spending money that we have and not printing money. . . . Then we can end brinkmanship. If you’re going to keep spending money like drunken sailors, we’re going to keep fighting.”
In other words, Republicans will deploy brinkmanship until they win, and then will stop.
This is an obvious throwback to the debt default games congressional Republicans played with Barack Obama after their 2010 midterm conquest of the House, which produced the Budget Control Act of 2011, a set of agreed-upon spending cuts and then mandatory spending caps.
But it’s not just destructive nostalgia motivating Republicans in looking ahead to hostage-taking havoc: it’s the will of their lord and master, as Paul Waldman notes:
[C]onsider this additional wrinkle: Donald Trump will almost certainly demand that Republicans go this route — and we know how willing Republicans are to stand up to him.
Trump has already attacked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for making a deal that puts off the next debt ceiling crisis until after the 2022 election. Now imagine it’s 2023, Republicans have just taken over the House, and the debt ceiling has to be raised again.
Trump will probably be running for president by then, at which point his position as unquestioned leader of his party will resume being a daily reality in every Republican’s life, making it nearly impossible for them to go against his wishes.
No, quiet obstruction is not going to be style preferred by Trump once he is the Leader of the Opposition in a divided government wherein Republicans will likely have the House as a staging point for their 2024 messaging. Indeed, the GOP would be able to set up multiple crises over must-pass legislation, including annual appropriations alongside debt limit “cliffs” and no telling what else. It’s a scenario that could combine the worst features of divided government under both Obama and Trump, thanks to the Republican conceit that whatever they must do to stop “runaway spending” (i.e., runaway spending on priorities of which they do not approve) is fair game.